What Are the Odds of AIDS for Average Heterosexuals?

Dear Christine,

I'm a 29 year-old male leading a normal heterosexual life style—if such a thing as "normal" really exists. I follow the "rules" of safe sex and consider myself an upbeat person. At the same time, there’s always a nagging voice in my head that says I could have AIDS and I'll probably die of it one day.

Why does the media make all young people live with this fear of dying? It's enough to make you lose weight, your hair, think you've always got the flu and generally feel ill and depressed even when you’re totally healthy!

If I bet $100 on dying of AIDS, what do you think my odds would be of winning?

Kind regards,


Dear Mark,

You can probably attribute that nagging voice filling you with fear of AIDS to the multi-billion dollar AIDS advertising and "awareness" campaigns that have been spreading misguided messages on risks since the mid 1980's.

Unfortunately, the media don't tend to examine the AIDS information they pass on to us as news. This means wild estimates, unfounded projections and baseless claims not only go unchallenged, they are perpetually fed to us as if they were correct and true.

One very popular claim is that teenagers are at high risk for AIDS. Thankfully, out of some 26 million US teens, only a couple hundred are diagnosed with AIDS in any given year, and of these, very few fall outside the risk categories of IV drug users and males having sex with males.

But back to your concerns, according to a New York Times article from 1988—a time when fears of a massive epidemic were running really high and more Americans were estimated to be positive than today—the chances of "getting the virus” through sexual intercourse were calculated at 1 in 5 billion if a condom is used with a low risk partner.

A 1996 Wall Street Journal article on AIDS reports that the chance of contracting HIV from random unprotected sex with non-IV drug using heterosexuals is "smaller than the risk of ever being struck by lightening."

Further, some mainstream AIDS experts assert that HIV is not passed from a woman to a man. Accepting the purported accuracy of HIV tests, the text “Sex At Risk” by Stuart Brody, PhD draws concludes there is no evidence in the medical literature for vaginal transmission of HIV. A couple years ago, the very orthodox AIDS magazine POZ ran a cover story on how men in America cannot get HIV from a woman. Also, female prostitutes, perhaps the most sexually active women around (and who carry out their activities in less than ideal health circumstances) are not even listed by the US Centers for Disease Control as a risk group for AIDS.

Even if you were to get struck by lightening and test HIV positive, this still doesn’t mean you would go on to develop AIDS. I meet people everyday through my work who are HIV positive, healthy and not taking AIDS drugs or any other extraordinary measures to remain well. Today I received an email from a 22 year-old man who is HIV positive since a transfusion at birth and is perfectly healthy without ever having taken AIDS meds.

Considering this information and what you tell me about yourself, I would say your fears about AIDS are unfounded and you can tell the nagging voice to be quiet.

I'll take that $100 bet with you anytime.

Take care,


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